Made From Scratch: Chocolate Chip Granola Bars with Dried Cherries and Shredded Coconut

Last weekend, a friend asked me if I had a granola bar recipe on the blog. After a quick search through my archives, I discovered that though I have a major love for granola, I have never made it in bar form. In fact, the one time I did attempt to make bars, we broke into them before the cooling time was complete and ended up with granola chunks instead. (Admittedly, granola chunks are one of my favorite things, so I was more than okay with this result.)

So, to rectify the situation, I made a batch of homemade granola bars. A Google search indicated that there was one main recipe that most people have used to make homemade granola bars, and it's a no-bake recipe to boot. Like most granola recipes, the options are endless when it comes to potential mix-ins. To make my granola bars just a little bit different, I stirred in some dried bing cherries, shredded coconut, and a little wheat germ. You could easily omit these ingredients, or sub in whatever you have on hand. The addition of spices, such as cinnamon or ginger, could also take these granola bars up a notch. Whatever you do, make sure to allow the granola plenty of time to cool in the pan before cutting them into bars. Although, I think a little crumbled chocolate chip granola over yogurt would make for a super-delicious breakfast treat.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars with Dried Cherries and Coconut (printer-friendly version)
makes about 10 bars

2 cups quick cooking oats 
1 cup crispy rice cereal
1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped 
1/4 cup shredded coconut 
2 tablespoons wheat germ [optional]
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup 100% pure maple syrup (or honey)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

1. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper (allow some of the paper to overhang the edge of the baking sheet). Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, rice cereal, dried cherries, shredded coconut, and wheat germ. Set aside.
3. In a small sauce pot, combine the butter, maple syrup, and brown sugar. While stirring, heat the mixture over medium high heat until the butter has melted and the mixture begins to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for an additional two minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Make sure the oat mixture is evenly moistened.
5. Turn the granola mixture out onto the prepped baking sheet and press until the granola reaches a 3/4" thickness -- the granola won't take up the whole baking sheet; when I pressed the mixture out into a rectangle, it only covered about 1/3 of the pan. Be sure to press the mixture firmly. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the granola and press lightly to set the chips into the granola.
6. Let the granola cool for at least 2 hours in the pan at room temperature. After the granola has completely cooled, cut it into bars. Store the bars in an airtight container, adding a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap between layers to prevent them from sticking together.

(adapted from this recipe)